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Plenty to watch in UND exhibition

FNS photo by Eric Hylden In this 2013 photo, University of North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi brings the puck up the ice during the first period against St. Cloud State.

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota men's hockey team will take the ice for the first time at 6:07 p.m. to play the University of Manitoba.

Sure the game is an exhibition and won't count in the standings, but for the players, there's quite a bit on the line.

At every position there's a battle to make the lineup, as well as battles to earn ice time. And today will be the first real chance for the coaching staff to assess the players in game action.

Here are four storylines to follow tonight:

1. Who will play center?

The coaches have penciled in Mark MacMillan as one of the likely centers for this season. The junior forward played up the middle to end last year and did a solid job there.

After MacMillan, it's anybody's guess who will end up at center.

UND has several candidates to play there, including Rocco Grimaldi, Luke Johnson, Colten St. Clair, Stephane Pattyn and Adam Tambellini, but time will tell who earns those spots. Four players will get to audition today.

2. Deep D-men

UND is expected to dress eight defenseman for today's exhibition. Come Friday's season-opener against Vermont, that number will likely be six.

Tonight's game provides a chance for the players to earn a spot in that top six.

The exhibition will be the first audition for four touted rookies --United States Hockey League defenseman of the year Paul LaDue, British Columbia Hockey League defenseman of the year Troy Stecher and National Team Development Program alums Keaton Thompson and Gage Ausmus.

The returning defenders are Dillon Simpson, Nick Mattson, Jordan Schmaltz and Andrew Panzarella.

3. Goaltending consistency

Expect to see both senior Clarke Saunders and sophomore Zane Gothberg in the net today.

Last season, both showed the ability to steal a game. However, both also had some frustrating moments along the way. If Saunders and Gothberg improve their consistency level, goaltending could become the team's biggest strength this season.

Will one of them be able to make a statement today?

4. Breakout players

In UND's quest to replace the offense of departed seniors Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, it would be a big help of UND received some production from an unexpected source.

There are a handful of players who have the potential to increase scoring production this season, like Michael Parks, Brendan O'Donnell and Bryn Chyzyk.